Can I listen to Christmas songs in Advent? I’ve heard people say that we shouldn’t even put up decorations before Christmas. What should I do?
By Father Mike Schmitz
This is something that I have considered for a long time. The “Christmas season” seems to begin earlier and earlier in our culture. Of course, by “Christmas season,” I mean the season of decorations, songs, and selling us things. The consumer season of Christmas seems to begin right after Halloween, plows through Thanksgiving, and ends abruptly on the afternoon of the 24th of December. This is a direct contrast to the liturgical season of Christmas, which begins on the evening of the 24th and continues until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Jan. 12 this year).
We’ve all lived through this before. We are so partied and celebration-ed out by the day after Christmas that it seems like there is very little to continue celebrating. In addition, so many of our celebrations are more social and cultural than they are religious that we don’t even know how to celebrate the actual liturgical season of Christmas.
Because of this, Advent becomes (in our actual day-to-day lives) the time we “celebrate Christmas.”
OK, clearly we’ve got this backwards. As a result, there are many people who take these kinds of things seriously who will tell you that it is not good to listen to Christmas songs or put up decorations during Advent. I get it. And if that is your practice, that’s great.
But I think that we can live Advent even better than that.
The church describes Advent as the time preceding the Season of Christmas during which the faithful prepare to celebrate the feast of the Lord’s first coming into the world, prepare to receive the Lord worthily in Holy Communion, and prepare themselves for his Second Coming at the end of time.
Basically, this is a season of preparation. Advent is given to us so that we can prepare — prepare to celebrate Christmas well, prepare to receive Holy Communion well, and prepare to die well.
What would help you be more prepared to celebrate Christmas well? Would songs help? Would decorating your environment in such a way that it reminded you of the upcoming season help? Would fasting help (so that the feast would be that much more longed for)? Let this be the place you begin to answer the question: with the end in mind.
What would help you receive Holy Communion more worthily? Would songs or decorations help? They might. I know a lot of people who pray with music. There are many songs that can open up the heart to prayer and can draw a person into singing Scripture. Would going to Confession help? (Hint: absolutely it would and is likely necessary for many of us.) Advent is a season to be even more intentional about preparing to receive Christ in the Eucharist as well as possible.
But here is the real kicker for me: Advent is a time to prepare for Christ’s return at the end of time, or at the end of the time you have left on this planet. Advent is a time to prepare for the moment you die. I invite you to consider this prayer exercise this Advent: imagine that, instead of just getting ready to celebrate Christmas this year, what if you knew that you were going to die on Dec. 25?
This is your new Advent exercise: your “death day” is Dec. 25, now how will you live Advent? Will decorating your house help you prepare for your death? Will listening to Christmas songs help you become ready to wake up dead on Christmas morning? Will going to any and every Christmas party help you?
This is not about a rule of “no songs” or “no decorating.” Not at all! (I’m not a Grinch about those things.) This is about beginning Advent with the real purpose of Advent in mind. If we reduce this season to a list of do’s and don’t’s, then we aren’t really entering into what the church has given us in the gift of Advent.
You are going to die on Dec. 25. Now, how are you going to live each moment from this moment until that moment so you are prepared to see the Lord of the Universe face to face?
Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at email@example.com.